Robert Holden’s And the Band Played On is a beautiful and interesting investigation on how the ANZACs survived the horrors of WWI drawing on music and song, perfect for history and military history fans alike.
Cast aside all thoughts of computer-age technology and its resources for entertainment and try to imagine Australian life back in the first decade of the 20th century. At that time the country was still enjoying its infancy as the world’s youngest nation.
This was a society in which families provided much of their own amusement: anyone who could play an instrument, or who had a passable voice, or could recite, was valued, as well as expected to entertain.
In those days, having a piano in the parlour became the mark of a cultured household. Playing the piano, singing, performing or reciting poetry learned in school elocution classes were a staple of family as well as of community life.
And so, when the men of this young Australia marched off to war a typical call was, Are you a singing man? Can you spin a funny yarn? Can you play a mouth organ, concertina…or any other instrument?
Those who answered this second call to arms became the morale boosters of the First World War. Impromptu entertainments, sing-alongs, yarns and story-telling and recitations were all part of a homespun repertoire which accompanied these men to war.
And the Band Played On seeks to re-create and pay homage to that camaraderie and to that innocent enjoyment and spontaneous entertainment which lifted the spirits of the ANZACs whether they were under the shadow of the pyramids, in the trenches of the Western Front, on board battleships, recuperating in hospitals or even in POW camps.
Robert Holden has had a distinguished career as a librarian, curator, writer and book reviewer. The author of 32 books, his work has ranged from a broad spectrum of Australian subjects, particularly for his pioneering research on Australian children’s book illustrators. His recent biography of May Gibbs, More Than a Fairytale (with Jane Brummitt) was awarded the Woollahra Writers’ History Prize.
He has been awarded a Senior Fellowship by the Literature Board of the Australia Council, had a book ‘optioned’ by Paramount Studios and delivered lectures at both the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. His evolving interest in Australian military history was initiated by a Mitchell Library Fellowship which gave him unprecedented access to that library’s original ANZAC diaries.
And the Band Played On is published by Hardie Grant Books and is available from all leading retailers.